Saturday, June 4, 2016

Tink Tinker on Berrigan's war resistance, "The Mission" and Jesuit colonialism

    In the introduction to Jeremy Varon's heartfelt report of the memorial, I commented on an important note I had received from Tink Tinker.  Tink has long and profoundly raised the issue of racism toward indigenous people at Iliff School of Theology, about Columbus Day, about John Evans, and in many aspects of our lives (sometimes in previous correspondence with me - see here and here).


     As a draft resister and a counselor in the Bay area, he admired the Berrigans.  But he hated the movie, for reasons he rightly makes all too clear.  It is about what the Christians brought.  Now "The Mission" has a critical impulse - its memorable first scene of a priest cast down the waterfall makes a kind of anti-patriarchal symbolism (h/t Doug Vaughan below).  And it does feature farming in common.  But it all modelled, as Tink says, through patriarchal leaders - the two priests, Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons - leading violent and nonviolent resistance.  It avoids or suppresses the views of the Guarani entirely.  And child stealing, memorialized in article 2 section 5 on the Convention against Genocide, was what Catholics and Protestants did to indigenous people in Canada and the US and Australia, down to yesterday (see  here).  In contrast, a decent religion lets children breathe and live freely, not compelling them to serve the Lord in another language, degrading them, producing (often with physical torture) trauma and facilitating the stealing of their land.


    Tink and I were among the coauthors of the University of Denver report on John Evans and the Sand Creek Massacre.  His point is that Evans was an abolitionist and a horrific racist railway entrepreneur who alone created the conditions in which Colonel John Chivington, also an abolitionist, could go commit the ghastly slaughter of Cheyennes and Arapahos who thought they had made peace.  In Republican Senator Benjamin Wade's report for the Joint Congressional Committee in 1865, he said "It is doubtful that beings in human form can have done such things." 


      There were many massacres all over the country and in West.  US government and army policy, in the West, was massacre of people when they were camped for winter.  This meant slaughter of innocents, especially children, women, the elderly.

       The Civil War in the South was a war against genocide.  The Civil War in the West (and until the final extension of "Manifest Destiny" to slaughter Philippinos in 1898) was a war of genocide...


     I agree with the parallel, but would differentiate, despite the awfulness of the "Mission," Evans/Chivington from Berrigan.


     Dan Berrigan went about as far, in risking his life and wellbeing, resisting, on the run after Catonsville and in jail as any of us (he could easily have died as a result of his actions; the Jesuit order had to get him out of jail because he was ill after the Prince of Prussia plant nuclear protests).  Dan and Phil spent a lot of time in jail for defying the Vietnam and America's nuclear insanity.  It is good Obama was recently at Hiroshima and sad that he has, under the influence of militarism/the war complex, directed a trillion dollar modernization of nuclear weapons, making nuclear war more likely...The American elite is on a collision course with self-destruction (taking all the rest of us with them....),  Plowshares is one important answer, which inspires courageous resistance among many.


      Now Berrigan also supported Jesuit and Christian racism - genocidal racism, despite the intra-Christian suppression in this movie.  But Tink is too quick to analogize what he rightly says is unforgivable in Berrigan's role in the movie, and the mass murderers in Colorado.


    In the article from a Villanova paper below Tink's letter, Berrigan is interviewed about his appearance in "The Mission" and his advice to the filmmaker.  With his customary humor, Dan says he is not interested in "a Son of Mission."  But the substance of his advice was mainly about the importance of nonviolent resistance.  The director had placed an equal weight on violent and nonviolent resistance, both, however, led by outsider priests (somehow Dan and the director missed all the indigenous resistance all over the world - except the priest on the cross head first over the waterfall - and of course, famously in the the genocidal US...).  Berrigan both disagreed about that equalization - wanted to emphasize nonviolent resistance - and did ask the director to have the Guarani to march out to confront the committers of genocide.  Berrigan thought rightly that staying in the Church, the burning roof coming down, was passive, unfair to the people with whom the film was trying to side.


     And the Jesuits were, as patriarchs and with a lot of racism,  sometimes well-meaning.  But Berrigan has no clue about the far  more fundamental issue which Tink underlines.  It is how the Guarani chose to live, work, defend and speak about themselves which is decisive, not what choice they made about tactics given a drama for which they are but background, scenery.  The film reminds me of the 2013 movie "Lincoln" - finally getting around to celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation on its 150th anniversary - where the white folks, even Thaddeus Stevens, are the players, the 184,000 black soldiers who won the Civil War backdrop.   The people who made the movie had no clue that black resistance was a driving force against slavery, thought they were being anti-racist, and weren't.  Dan, in this case, too...


I quite appreciated Daniel Berrigan for much of his work, particularly the movement he and his brother inspired in protesting the Vietnam War. I, too, was a draft resister, refusing the government's offer in 1966. I, too, was a draft resistance counselor in the Bay area in the late 60s and early 70s. How could I not appreciate the work of both Berrigans?

But I never could forgive him for the movie he made to honor the Jesuits. "The Mission" was an awful, and awfully damaging, film, canonizing liberal White supremacy. How could someone be so right about so much and absolutely clueless about other stuff. It should remind us of early Colorado days that we have investigated, Alan, where some folk could be
abolitionists, on the one hand, and ready to butcher peaceful Indians on the other. Well, Dan Berrigan was a colonialist with no clue about Native Peoples of this hemisphere that the Jesuits (his own order) invaded or how consistently devastating that Jesuit invasion was for Native Peoples. How, for instance, can anyone think it "wonderful" to take a ten year old boy out of his Native habitat and put him on center stage singing a Latin chant and think that to be some monumental christian accomplishment?

Sorry, Dan, but that terrible image will just not go away. As Greenblatt suggests, the Jesuits and all euro-christian missionaries engaged in endeavors that failed any test of authentic reciprocal giving. We got the book and they got our land.



Father Berrigan Talks About HisFilm Mission The Jesuit And Noted Peace Activist Discussed His Role In The Making Of A Major Motion Picture

POSTED: March 25, 1993
VILLANOVA — The Rev. Daniel Berrigan - Jesuit priest, poet, playwright, author, educator - played to a packed house.
All 225 seats of Villanova University's Connelly Center theater were filled, and those who could not get seats huddled on the floor in the aisles.
They had come Monday night to see a movie and to hear Father Berrigan speak, not on his usual subjects of peace, racial equality, economic justice and nonviolent resistance, but on the making of the movie, The Mission, in 1986 in the jungles of Colombia and Argentina.
The film, set in 1753 in the territory of Paraguay, revolves around a group of Jesuits who establish a mission for the Guarani Indians. Boundary lines between Spain and Portugal are changed, and the village becomes part of Portugal, which has not abolished slavery. The Indians must go back to the jungle, and risk being caught by slave-traders, or stay and defend their mission against Portuguese soldiers.
Father Berrigan, who this semester is a visiting professor in the religious studies department at Villanova, acted as adviser to the film's director, Roland Joffe. And in a stroke of perfect type-casting, he played a small role as a Jesuit priest, Sebastian.
Answering questions after the screening, Father Berrigan talked about the difficulty and pleasure of making a film in 110-degree heat in the jungle. A tall, slender man with a thatch of white hair, he wore an aqua cotton shirt, brown corduroy slacks and brown hiking shoes.
Father Berrigan said that coaching the film's stars, Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, on their roles as priests had been like working on two different planets. Irons plays the head of the mission and De Niro portrays an ex- mercenary and slave trader who becomes a priest.
"Irons is more of a method actor," said Father Berrigan. "He wanted to get inside the thinking of a Jesuit. I told him the only thing to do was to fast. He and I spent a day without food or water, and Irons frequently went off my himself to meditate.
"De Niro is a natural genius. All he wanted to do was question me for hours about being a priest."
At Villanova, Father Berrigan, 71, is delivering theological lectures to undergraduates and teaching a graduate Scripture course called "Minor Prophets, Major Themes."
But his fame is as an activist, not a teacher. In 1965, Father Berrigan and his brother, Philip, then a priest also, founded Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. In 1968, the Berrigans and seven others poured napalm on draft records in Catonsville, Md. After his conviction, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan spent four months underground, then was captured and imprisoned for 19 months.
The Berrigans are remembered, too, for an incident in this area. In 1980, as members of the Plowshares Eight, they were arrested at the General Electric plant in King of Prussia for damaging three nuclear warheads under construction there.
For the last eight years, Father Berrigan has worked with AIDS patients in the supportive care unit, a hospice, at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City. He lives in New York in a Jesuit community. That work almost made him refuse the movie role offered by Joffe.
"I knew that I would be gone five months," he said, "and that some of my patients would be dead by the time I returned. But my family of priests and my own family encouraged me, saying it was a worthwhile project."
Besides coaching, Father Berrigan made some script changes. At the end of the film, Joffe wanted the defeated Guarani to huddle together in the church and sing while the straw roof was set on fire and collapsed on them.
"I don't consider that an act of nonviolence," he said, "but a lack of courage."
Instead, the film ends with the Indians, led by Irons, carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a large gold container called a monstrance, walking bravely out to meet the soldiers. Almost all of them are killed.
"But they weren't cowering when they died," said Father Berrigan.
Five babies were born during the filming, and they all survived because of the crew's medical supplies, Father Berrigan said. Without them, he said, "at least two or three would have died. That was the most beautiful part for me." [this, too, might have led to some deeper thoughts, even charity-wise]
Has he now been bitten by the Hollywood bug?
"Well, let's just say I don't think I'll do Son of The Mission."


Jeanette Baust, my old friend and heroic Iliff resister over the Trustees' bizarre denial of tenure to Paula Nesbitt, like the question about Berrigan and the Gaurani, and extended it to Dorothy Day (and Dan Berrigan) on opposing abortion. (I think this oppression is very serious, but short of genoide which is what the Jesuits contributed to toward the Guarani).  Jeanette brings to it the idea of intersectionality, something that radicals have been concerned with a long time - Marx's great comment at the chapter on the Working Day in Capital that "labor cannot be free in the white skin where in the black it is branded."  He suggested that the great movement for the 8 hour day in America had emerged "out of the death of slavery."  Or, we are all in this together, as Bernie Sanders says movingly of his spirituality.


     Marx himself was oblivious to  (as far as I can tell)  the situation of indigenous people during the Civil War - way uncritical of Lincoln and the Republicans and railways - and in Colorado, John Evans and the slaughter of peaceful Cheyennes and Arapahos.  Marx's 1880s letters to Vera Zasulich on Russia - critical of Plekhanov, defending Narodnya Volya and the Russian peasant mir as vehicles for communism without any intervening capitalism - were not published  there until the 1920s. But they were linked with his notebooks on the Iroquois and learning from indigenous practices deeply.  He moved far in this direction in a way which radicals have yet to take in (Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State is but a gesture).  See   .

     Until no one is oppressed (as Gene Debs once said in prison), we will all be oppressed.

Your question about Berrigan's "lapse" around the movie The Mission, is a great one. I had a similar question around Dorothy Day, who was unflinchingly committed to the poor and the Worker's movement but couldn't see a connection between women's oppression and adamantly opposing abortion (and I think birth control).
Being around and reading about the lives of so many activists has made me aware of the complexity of intersectionality ......  racial degradation lifted over gender oppression, racial and gender solidarity over cultural diversity, on and on, and all of our blindspots, or simply not being able to do "everything at once," thus people picking their priorities of the moment.

And here is Doug Vaughn's letter on why the film might be seen, too easily, as opposing the spinelessness/harmfulness of many church activities:

"Btw, though, some (including, I suspect, Berrigan) view The Mission as evangelism turned upside diwn, symbolized by the priest strapped to the cross going head first over the falls into the abyss --  an acknowledgement of the "sin" of hubris, arrogance even in professed humility, and cautionary tale of the crimes committed by self-sacrificing condescending saviours with, but not excused by, ostensibly "good motives" (saving souls, charity), a revelation about imperialism and colonialism not to the victims but their high-minded executioners."

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